Nepali Times
Here And There
The season of war


TORONTO - The consumerist frenzy known as Christmas is over. Thus passes the season where the Christian world pretends that it is celebrating the values propagated (unsuccessfully at the time) by Jesus Christ, the man who urged his disciples to forgive, forget, love their neighbours and most famously, turn the other cheek if enemies slap them in the face.

So now, after sending each other cards and emails urging peace and forgiveness of transgressions, the Christians are going to war. They're hoping that Saddam Hussein's cheeks can be swiftly and easily slapped into submission.

Iraq (Sunni Muslim-lead but a mixed bag in the religious department) will come under sustained attack from a coalition of countries founded by, and still largely inhabited by, people who profess to follow the Christian faith. Jewish Israel, an obvious ally, will be excluded, because of American fears of further antagonising Muslim Arabs, who believe with almost religious intensity that what is coming is yet another clash of civilisations-"ours against theirs".

Ever since the horrific events of 11 September, western leaders have been at pains to stress that there aren't going to war against Islam or Muslims. British Prime Minister Tony Blair-ridiculed in London's Private Eye magazine as "the vicar of St. Albion's church" for his often insufferable holier than thou tones-even preaches Islam to Muslims from time to time. "Yours is a religion of peace," he tells them, "We have nothing against you." When the war begins, and the tanks roll towards Baghdad, the planes pound Iraqi infrastructure, we can count on hearing this sort of dreck again. I will reply then, as I did post 9/11, that Christ's philosophy puts peace first too. Why don't his followers, asks Arab public opinion, and the odd crotchety columnist.

The mainstream media in much of the (Christian) west brims with stories about the evils of Saddam Hussein and his clan of wicked sycophants and future war criminals. The American writer Mark Bowden, author of "Black Hawk Down" has even written a 20,000 word article about this in the New Yorker magazine, in which he states almost incidentally, that he's never been to Iraq! The latest issue of the New Yorker, house organ of the American liberal, has another piece in a similar vein, a sort of Cook's Tour of Saddam's atrocities over the years. These are, I suppose, an attempt to get the usual suspects of liberal opinion-making behind the war, to rekindle the post 9/11 spirit in America, perhaps to make the same calm righteous anger arise again, despite the failure to find Bin Laden, propel the invading forces into Baghdad.

For what strikes me as I read, watch, and absorb the flow of public opinion here in the heart of Christendom is how little support there actually is for the plans of Bush, Blair, and others. How disgust for Saddam Hussein is mixed with great skepticism about the utility and morality of this coming war? How few people-even those well aware of Saddam's wicked deeds over the years-accept the need to righteously smite him at this moment, as opposed to any other. Could it be that a little residual Christian spirit still resides in the bosoms of those who still follow the faith of Jesus here? If so, how then to explain the many Jews, Hindus, Muslims and atheists who swell the ranks of the peace movement. No, this is a matter of politics and distrust of the political elite, more than any other.

Even more orthodox thinkers who usually support the actions of conservative governments, especially US administrations, find the war mongering distasteful and frightening. Abraham Lincoln decried the giving of war powers to presidents, despite exercising them himself. There's an element of this in war opposition here. There's also a notion that it's impossible morally to support Saddam Hussein's nasty regime. People are troubled; this whole exercise is causing deep unease.

The case for war has not been made, far from it. America's anti-Iraq coalition will march under a perilous banner, that of soft public support and uncertainty of outcome.

Christmas is over, as are all the major religious holidays until Losar or Holi. The gods-it seems-have deserted us as we enter this season of war. Who could blame them?

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)